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History of Power lifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 68

Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability Part Four

If reader feedback is any measure of accuracy, even operating under the assumption that most TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM readers are powerlifters, there is widespread agreement with the statements I have made in the last few columns regarding the differences between and among those who participate within the boundaries of the Iron Game sports. The general consensus is that powerlifters as a group, are “more hyped,” “more outwardly emotional,” and “more nuts” than Olympic weightlifters. I like the “more outwardly emotional” description best and regarding the “more nuts” label, why don’t we just say that most who are obsessed with any aspect of lifting weights probably lie outside the norm on some measure of psychological standards. I of course would include myself within that group as there are not many explanations that would adequately justify for example, working a ten hour day of hard physical labor, attending school for two to three and a half hours on four evenings per week, maintaining family responsibilities, and yet carving out time for two or three brutally difficult training sessions each and every week. Yet, how many of us always approached each difficult week with the thought that “If there is one thing I have to make time for and get done this week, it’s my squat workout”? In drawing comparisons between the two major aspects of the lifting sports, I have avoided commentary on bodybuilding. In part, this comes from the fact that my personal interest was never truly tied to that faction of our activity.

If you go to the newsstand of one of the major bookstores or on the street corners in some of our larger cities, or know how to navigate the Internet well, you can find magazines related to every aspect of activity that finds one even touching or breathing upon a barbell. There are specialty magazines for powerlifting (and how badly does everyone miss POWERLIFTING USA?), CrossFit, general fitness, hard core bodybuilding, “soft core” bodybuilding, women’s fitness, whatever men’s fitness might be, extreme women’s physical development, the Spartan/Tough Mudder type of events, and everything in-between. You just have to know where to look.

Muscle_Power_Magazine

More than the York publications, Joe Weider stressed the “get muscles-get the girl” approach to attracting teenage boys to his magazines and products. Muscle Power eventually became Muscle Builder and finally Muscle And Fitness

n the early 1960’s, I was often asked to either immediately remove my copy of what could only be described as a bodybuilding magazine from the inside of my textbook while sitting in the back of a high school classroom or trek to the Principal’s office with the offending, and oft-considered deviant magazine, in hand. The reading choices were limited: York Barbell Company’s Strength And Health or Joe Weider’s Muscle Power. Intermittently, Weider would augment his primary magazine which would later morph into Muscle Builder and finally, Muscle And Fitness, with Mr. America, Young Mr. America, or something designed to introduce “athletes who lift weights” into the consciousness of fourteen and fifteen year olds who he was priming for long-time customer status.

young_mr_america_magazine

The article titles say it all regarding the focus upon the interests of young teenage boys: “Mold Mighty Arms”; “Build Powerful Legs”; “Terrifying Self-Defense Tactics…”; and the necessary reference to sex, all topics sure to hold the immediate and riveting attention of a fourteen year old intent upon finding his place within his peer group. This brilliant marketing strategy built the Weider empire.

As high school was concluding for me, York introduced Muscular Development which miraculously, had powerlifting based articles or “round ups” that were to that point in time, extremely rare. Less than mainstream, Peary Rader’s Iron Man and Lifting News were difficult to get, especially the latter which was no more than a few pages of strictly Olympic lifting and later, a combination of weightlifting and powerlifting meet results. Although Mabel and Peary Rader would have missed the point with their extremely conservative, Nebraska-based lifestyle, Iron Man’s acceptance as a “regular” muscle or bodybuilding type of magazine, at least in the New York City area, was further limited by its comparatively small 9” x 6” size, which usually found it displayed with the magazines blatantly packaged for a homosexual audience.

muscle_builder_magazine

Muscle Builder Magazine Cover

I was fortunate enough to have met, spoken with and over many years, established relationships of minor acquaintanceship or those of more significance with many of the leaders in the Iron Game. This included Joe Weider, Peary Rader, and Bob Hoffman of York and at one time or another I wrote articles for publications produced by all of them, either under my own name or in the case of the Weider magazines, often “by-lined” by one of the bodybuilding stars of the day. While bodybuilding was not “my thing,” I believe I can safely say that very few Olympic weightlifters or powerlifters first saw a barbell and thought, “I want to be a lifter.” They usually thought, as most young teenagers or pre-teens do that “I want to get bigger and stronger and look like that guy,” with “that guy” being an individual with some type of noticeable or advanced muscular development.

muscular_development_magazine

The February 1964 edition of Muscular Development magazine was the second issue ever published. Though it had a definitive “powerlifting section,” the photo of Mr. “Everything” Bill Pearl and the cover slogan “Devoted To The Science Of Bodybuilding” told its true intentions

This is such a natural response that at one point, after complaining to Joe (Weider) about some of the magazine content of Muscle Power, he reminded me, and I shall paraphrase what he told me numerous times, that he was “doing a favor to all of the fourteen and fifteen year olds” that comprised his target audience of readers. “I sell them a dream, I sell them on the possibility of being big and strong and having all of those muscles and by the time they figure out that you can’t just get that kind of development, they’re hooked on a better, healthier lifestyle.” They hopefully would also be hooked on all of the Weider supplements and home equipment that were touted and featured in his magazines each month. In truth, arbitrarily choosing any date from the mid-1950’s as a starting point, to the early 1980’s, the magazines served as little more than a monthly catalogue for the product line, especially the supplements. In 1971 Nautilus founder Arthur Jones said it most accurately; “Years ago-once having been persuaded to purchase a barbell-most trainees were effectively removed from this category of potential customers; and thus the market was strictly limited-and no great profits were to be made by anybody. But a box of protein food supplement doesn’t last almost literally forever-as a barbell does; and secondly, it is far more difficult to judge the quality of a box of powdered food-if a barbell fails to live up to advertised claims, the shortcoming is obvious, but who can really judge the value of a food supplement?…The fact of the matter is that the subject of diet is probably the most completely understood factor involved in physical training-but not by bodybuilders who have been brainwashed into spending hundreds of millions of dollars on products of little or no value.”

fear_no_man_ad

The muscle magazine target audience was also a potential market for self defense courses. In addition to being big and strong, what 14 – 16 year old male doesn’t want to feel as if he could fight his way out of any situation? Nutritional supplements were and remain the foundation of the “muscle building market” and though Joe Weider was in no way a martial arts expert, I am certain he sold quite a few self defense and “How To Fight Better” courses through his various magazines

Though Jones was specifically addressing the bodybuilders who comprised the majority of the “lifting landscape” of the late-1960’s and early-1970’s, if he was alive today he could now perhaps add the statement, “in addition to bodybuilders, those seeking enhanced athletic performance as a reflection of what is now an acceptable level of participation in competitive, athletic and performance activity events, also spend hundreds of millions of dollars on products of little or no value.” Forty-three years after Arthur’s initial comments, nothing has changed in the nutritional supplement industry and nothing has significantly changed within the pages of most of the magazines. There are “celebrity” articles, limited training information, and a majority of nutrition and/or supplement related articles, information, and advertising. This is what drives the industry as it did from the mid-1950’s and forward. Relative to “hooking young men onto weight training” by appealing to, or preying upon their need or desire to be bigger and stronger, which was the “manly ideal” of the earlier era, the appeal is now to one’s specific desire to “get ripped and have abs” with this somehow construed as a reflection of “being strong” or “in shape.” And if one is interested in sitting in the back of any classroom and reading about the “how-to” steps of achieving their goal, it is still the bodybuilding type of look that serves as the lure.

More Next Month!

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 67


Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability Part Three


In last month’s column, a computer “explosion” forced me to produce my monthly article as a lengthy e mail, hastily sent to Titan Support System’s editor. Being thankful for many things during the Thanksgiving holiday presented an appropriate and timely opportunity to note some contest and training related glitches which in turn stimulated numerous e mails along the lines of “Gee, you should have been lifting at the Senior Nationals the year that so and so lost bowel control and…” Obviously, there is material for further gales of laughter. However, in the October 2013 column, I took advantage of being the author and included a photo of Dr. Rich Seibert. The exposure was well deserved and it could be said that Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters too, get scant attention in any media outlets other than the few “niche” or “cult like” print publications or internet sites that cater to their specific interests. Even with a successful commercial gym packed with high level lifters and bodybuilders on any particular evening, I would remind our members that we really were the extraordinary minority. As Dr. Rich has also encouraged and attracted so many young men and women to enter the sport of weightlifting, certainly the least popular of the three major “branches” of the Iron Sports, in terms of participatory numbers, he should in fact be recognized for those efforts. Holding his position as a well respected lifter counts too, but my highest level of admiration always goes to those who unselfishly work to enhance any sport they love so much. Dr. Rich reminded me of the first time he brought Curt White, also noted in October’s column, to my Manhattan office.

One of the points I have made through the years is that it’s easy to lose perspective. If one is in a gym or training facility environment, it becomes commonplace to see individuals with interests similar to one’s own, who train with the same levels of enthusiasm and consistency, and reap the efforts of doing so. We as a very small portion of the population forget that an instructive trip to one of the amusement type of parks during the summer months, will serve as a reminder that the overwhelming majority of the populace is overweight, over-fat, lacking in muscle and obvious strength, and generally look as if they haven’t done anything more physically strenuous than carry an extra large pizza from the driveway to the front door. Our perspective is changed and in a similar fashion, life on the streets of New York City is far from the norm any place else, and that includes the other large cities of the United States. When compared to life in a small, rather cloistered town in the Midwest, the perspective truly is very different. As Dr. Rich related, “I don’t know if you remember, but the day I brought Curt to your office, we stopped for a street souvlaki and then came up to the office. When you saw what he was eating, you said ‘Rich don’t give him that, it’s monkey meat !’ …on the way out of the Fisk building, we walked by the food cart again and Curt being rather naive, asked the street vendor ‘Sir, is this really monkey meat ?’ and the guy says ‘Yeah sure she’s a monkey meat !!’….I just remember him turning green…and being very careful about my next cuisine recommendation !!!” The point of course is that when exposed to what are literally a thousand street vendors peddling hot food each day, you develop “an eye” and “a feel” for those that will provide a good meal, and those that pose the risk of instant disease exposure. We wouldn’t have expected Curt to have had that at the time and in an unintended manner, no doubt ruined his day, at least relative to his gastronomic adventures. In a similar manner, its easy to lose perspective and forget that not one in five hundred individuals will understand the nuances of your squat or clean, nor will they care.

Returning to our primary subject, I can’t state that powerlifters are more “competitive” than Olympic weightlifters, they aren’t, but their competitive nature is perhaps often expressed differently. One of the top Olympic lifters in the United States during the late-1960’s through the mid-‘70’s told me that one can “be too strong and get too psyched to lift well” of course referring to one’s participation as an Olympic lifter. I was in the presence of a man who was clearly lifting royalty so was given a moment to ponder what was meant to be an insightful and important statement. Another of the York Barbell Club lifters joined the conversation and after getting the quick summary, immediately agreed. In short, this other legend believed that one obviously had to be “strong” in order to properly compete in the three official Olympic lifts of the day. However, if one were “too strong for their technique” as he succinctly put it, they tended to try to “muscle the weight” to completion and often did not “hold their technique from start to finish.” This I understood because I competed in Olympic weightlifting contests from time to time but not once considered myself to be an Olympic lifter! One very brief look at what I considered to be a properly performed snatch for example, would have confirmed my own assessment to anyone with a smattering of lifting knowledge. I can modestly state that I was “stronger” than the weights I lifted, but a lack of technique did not allow me to express or demonstrate the strength I actually had in the involved musculature. Attending the 1979 or 1980 Junior National Championships in Chicago, I witnessed one weight class won by an individual who was obviously muscularly stronger than everyone else in his class, and two classes that were won by individuals who clearly were not the strongest lifters but clearly, “the best” lifters.

Fred_Lowe

Standing atop the winners’ podium at the 1970 Senior National Olympic Weightlifting Championships is Michigan’s Fred Lowe. If one could choose an Olympic lifter who was exceptionally strong and could direct his intense focus on the task at hand, Fred would have been an appropriate choice. Super strong at any bodyweight, he certainly had technique but was an excellent example of an Olympic lifter who could have excelled at powerlifting and most other sports. Fred would entertain others by occasionally walking across the parking lot on his hands, a seemingly effortless activity that gave a great deal of insight to his extraordinary strength

We can return to my mantra that powerlifting does in fact require a great deal of technique, at least “good,” “successful” powerlifting does, especially over the long haul. “Good” technique has numerous interpretations but if a lifter can develop and become habituated to a lifting posture and movement that suits his or her leverages and ability to generate force, this would qualify as a reasonable definition. Olympic lifting is certainly more technique oriented than powerlifting is. However, like rolling up frying pans, a task done to both train and demonstrate forearm strength and usually done to intimidate my daughter’s potential boyfriends during her teenage years, the “trick” is to first be strong enough to actually do it! The “trick” to Olympic lifting is to first become quite strong and then be able to apply it to the lifts. The necessity for enhanced technique in comparison to the squat, bench press, and deadlift in my opinion, attracts a different personality type to the sport. I can be simplistic about it and state there is an “internal focus” for both groups but perhaps more of an outward or visible expression of that focus among powerlifters; that powerlifters are more aggressive while training and competing; that if a lifter is going to bang his head on the bar or into a wall until it bleeds, it will be a powerlifter long before it would be an Olympic lifter.

Pat_Susco

Our own Pat Susco who converted his Brooklyn living room into one of the best powerlifting “gyms” in the New York City area prior to being washed away in the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, was always known as operating on the higher end of lifting intensity. “Blood and Guts” lifting was both a figurative and literal term as Pat utilized psyching techniques that included attacking the barbell with his forehead.

This is not meant to imply that any individual Olympic weightlifter is less excited, enthused, or aggressive approaching the barbell, but it does imply that there is a distinct difference in personality types and how they go about the task at hand.

With a promise to wrap up comments related to Olympic lifters that began with our October 2013 column, I must digress to the humorous statements sent after the publication of last month’s piece. Most of the “old timers” who at one point or another directed a powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting contest did so because they believed that their area truly needed a meet due to a paucity of events or had a group of lifters that would benefit from contest participation and exposure but had too far to travel or otherwise, faced many inconveniences. Meet direction of course careened into a different direction with the advent of “mega-meets” that were designed to make money for the meet director, and I have no complaints with that, but it certainly changed the “feel” of the lifting sports. Our five annual powerlifting oriented events were done to provide a local venue for local lifters though we quickly attracted competitors from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New England, and even Puerto Rico. One year, our Iron Island Gym general manager Ralph directed a World Championships though “we” as a gym staff supplied the equipment, transported all of it from Long Island to Manhattan and then of course returned it from Manhattan to the gym so that we could open the day following the two day event, set up, broke down, weighed-in, judged, built the platforms, and performed every other arduous task that is necessary to have a successful meet, large or small. Of course this was magnified for a world championships. Rather than say “Never again!” we continued to host and direct our usual five well attended contests annually, until I sold the business in October of 1998. As noted in previous columns, I directed/hosted my first contest, a “real contest,” in the late 1970’s so it was a twenty year run albeit with gaps of non-participation. Many of our meets were first class, a few posed what modern parlance refers to as “many challenges,” and what the military would agree, skipped over SNAFU and TARFU, going directly to FUBAR!

Meet direction changed as the lifters and yes, the culture surrounding lifting changed. Local meets were wonderful affairs because everyone was at least minimally acquainted with every lifter, coach, judge, spotter, loader, and often, audience member. It was a small, cult like community that competed hard against each other with a desire to win, but one with a willingness to do whatever it took to insure a successful meet. When the spotters or loaders were not experienced or strong enough to safely protect a lifter who may have unexpectedly called for huge numbers on the bar, large and strong guys would come out of the audience to spot, guys with the experience to do it. With fewer “lifers” involved in the sport, and fewer willing to commit to being there for the sport and instead solely focused upon the success of themselves and/or their lifters, contests became less fun. In the old days, no one attended local meets unless they were competing, coaching a competitor, were a family member or training partner of a competitor, or a dyed-in-the-wool lifter themselves. This may still be true to an extent, but no one is coming out of the audience to help a meet run more smoothly or safely. They would have to “save it for (their own) training,” “couldn’t take focus off of their friend,” or otherwise, could not contribute to”just” help the meet and the sport.

More next month.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 66

I was very late entering the computer age and still do not own a cell phone. I have few skills beyond sending e mail and utilizing the computer keyboard as one would a typewriter to compose articles. When my computer and hard drive (patiently explained to me by my friend Phil, a true computer expert) crashed/burned/messed up and otherwise unusable was deemed beyond salvaging except by the most expert of specialists, this December 2013 column was swallowed and made to evaporate with the remainder of my extensive research materials. Rather than moan about it, I was focused on preparing for our annual, major Thanksgiving feast, hosting family and many friends who have come for this occasion for nearly thirty years. Some, like Pat Susco have an extensive lifting history with many records and championships under their belts. Others like former New York Giants defensive end Frank Ferrara are rooted in a football past and most would not know a bench press from a wine press but all enjoy the fellowship and tons of food. The holiday and loss of the computer allowed me to focus on so many things to be thankful for, including a few related to powerlifting.

As lifters, we should be thankful for competent spotters. Some, in both contests and during training, fall short of the minimal standard. One of our extremely strong trainees while at Iron Island Gym was Tom Metzger. Tom was an outstanding high school football player who has always trained because he enjoyed it, and probably needed to try to keep up with his beautiful wife who has won quite a few major, national level physique awards. We talked Tom into competing in an AAU meet in Pennsylvania for team points when we fell shorthanded but he was one of those non-competitive lifters that I have written about, and who some “experts” claimed “just don’t exist,” who could lift on the national level but didn’t care to. For approximately six months, Tom did not include twenty rep squats as part of his usual routine, but would, at the conclusion of at least one workout each week, load 400 or 450 onto the barbell, and squat for twenty reps, “just to make sure (he) could do it.” Yikes, most men at 220 pounds and 5’9” in height are not going to do that while focusing on the lift. Training prior to work, at 4:00 to 5:00 AM limited the available training partners Tom could seek out and one day, while I was occupied with a patient, Tom “needed” to complete his one set of twenty before showering and heading to his job. He asked one of our gym members to spot him, probably the only one remotely capable of doing it physically, but failed to note that this very nice individual was also on psychological medication that would either prevent him from, or cause him to, enter an alternate universe, known only to himself! Thus, with 450 pounds on his back and totally focused on the squat, Tom began grinding the reps while his “spotter” stood approximately fifteen feet behind him, silently chanting, swaying, eyes closed, and with no apparent awareness that he was supposed to be spotting a lifter doing a lot of reps with a lot of weight. Noting this, I rapidly and silently moved into spotting position, with absolutely no acknowledgement by the chosen spotter, that I was in position in front of him, ready to grab an errant barbell.

Even at contests, every lifter should be thankful for organized, competent, experienced spotting although it is useless if not implemented. At one of our Iron Island meets, a well known, arrogant lifter who resided in another state insisted that he would set a record but wanted to utilize his own spotter. I had no objection to this but noted that for significant weights, we utilized three spotters as was usual in any contest setting. We were told, “No, I take the spot from my guy, and don’t need or want anyone else around the bar.” Any attempt by the head judge or me to dissuade him was met with what can only be described as “an attitude” and I told our guys, “be ready, be nearby but as he insisted, off to the side.” Thus, with a lot of weight on the bar and a ton of fanfare, our aspiring national level bench press champion stabilized himself on the bench, called for his special personal spotter, took the bar and immediately dropped it across his chest. That he did not suffer fractured ribs, collapsed lungs, and/or cardiac arrhythmia was a testament to good fortune and a coating of protective body fat!

One can only be thankful both in training and during meets, for accurate loading. While it is ultimately the lifter’s or trainee’s responsibility to know what is on the bar, most leave it to their coach or handler during meets to insure that the bar is properly loaded. Those who are as compulsive as I am and who must count every plate on every set can make errors. Most of my regular, long time readers know that my wife Kathy was one of the pioneers of women’s powerllifting and a top ranked competitor in the lighter classes, posting the second highest total in her class at one World Championship and holding the American Deadlift Record. At a regional level meet in the mid-1980’s, travel, a lot of work and family responsibility, and last minute preparation for a meet she had not initially planned to enter left her warm-up room squats looking less than what we had anticipated. I immediately lowered her starting attempt and she was obviously called to the bar sooner than originally planned. She noted the weight on the bar, I counted the plates on the bar, she stepped under the bar, backed up, set up…and was immediately crushed attempting to come out of the hole! Needless to add, the newly requested, approved, and announced weight was not on the bar, and her originally requested ten kilo heavier opener was not on the bar but a full twenty five kilos more than her opening attempt was somehow loaded an none of us caught it. The platform manager, expeditor, head judge, and loaders could only shrug and apologize though I took responsibility for the misstep. It was a great lesson; if it could happen to experienced lifters and coaches with competent spotters, loaders, expeditors, and judges, it can happen to any lifter.

My wife reminded me that we always needed to be thankful for good, safe equipment. In my early lifting experience, which began in 1959, it was not unusual to find a lot of homemade equipment because the commercial market was quite limited, especially when seeking strong, beefy, made-to-withstand-powerlifting-weights type of equipment. I had the advantage of constructing my own racks and benches in my father’s iron shop but it was not uncommon to see and use squat racks, benches, and support equipment made from wood. Some was bomb proof, fashioned by carpenters who knew their craft and utilized very heavy pieces of wood, angled and fastened so that stress points were strong enough to hold up to powerlifting pounding. Most were not. In the town of Inwood near us, one of the older fellows who had just graduated from Lawrence High School and who possessed what could be called an “advanced physique” for the era, invited me to take a workout with him. His equipment was all homemade and constructed of wood. Some of it looked great, some of it appeared to be a bit suspect but he assured me that all of it would hold up to the three hundred plus pound squats we would attempt in our early attempt at becoming stronger. I was not taken by complete surprise when my set of five reps with 275 pounds was plunked back into the wooden squat racks and one of the uprights split down the middle, from top to bottom. We both could only watch as one side of the barbell dropped and in what was almost slow motion, both of the uprights splintered into many pieces that shot forcefully in many directions! This certainly rivaled one of our lighter but stronger competitors attempting a limit deadlift only to feel and watch one end of an expensive power bar literally break, with the overlying sleeve and weights tumbling to the platform, quickly followed by the remainder of the unbalanced load. Observing one of our national champions while living and lifting in Southern California take a huge squat out of the rack was exciting but that excitement soon turned to a bit of panic as the bar literally bent across his upper back during the time it took to descent and then arise from his first rep. Needless to say, everyone present sprang forward to grab the bar and place it back into the rack. The legendary Pat Casey always took his own heavily constructed bench to meets in the back of a pickup truck because he had experienced benches that he was told would “easily support” his 340 pound bodyweight and 600 pound bench press attempts, collapse beneath him long before he tried 600.

Some prototypes have remained prototypes and never saw the light of day, thankfully, and as powerlifters we need to be thankful for that. Imagine a rack that was bolted into a large wooden platform, one of the early “rack and platform” units, that to my eye, did not seem as if it was properly secured despite sixteen industrial quality, heavy duty fasteners. Sure enough, with no more than four hundred pounds across the racks weight saddles, the rack and companion barbell did a slow motion forward swan dive to the platform with the observing lifters scattering and jumping out of the way before suffering possible decapitation. Good equipment would include 100 pound plates that do not weight 112 pounds each as they often did in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, 45’s that did not range from forty-one to fifty-two pounds, and 20 kilo bars that did not weigh in at 49 pounds. Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all of the obvious family and health related matters but as powerlifters, let’s not forget what we need to be thankful for.

Next month, concluding Diversity In Lifting with what shall be a new computer!

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 65

Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability Part 2

Not everyone believes that watching a lifting contest is “a good thing.” I directed my first powerlifting meet in the late-1970’s and it was “de facto direction” if it was anything. My friends and training partners, highly thought of powerlifters on the verge of national recognition, decided to host a powerlifting meet which would be well attended due to the popularity of the sport in the St. Louis area. Because everyone planned to lift in the contest, their focus naturally remained on their training and the highlight of the competition for me, was being attired in a non-supportive wrestling singlet, buried beneath the announcing and scorer’s table, hooking up loud speakers, when my name was called for my first squat. Obviously there would be no time to change into the new-fangled, newly introduced supportive lifting suits, the ones that resembled skin tight burlap bags, and no time to actually warm up. I passed on my first attempt so that I could take rapid, non-stop warm-ups with 135 and 225, and ran out for my first attempt of the competition. There was no strong prediction that I would have placed any higher than fourth in a very good field of six or seven as I recall the competition, but it was a poor way to begin one’s competitive day and a lesson that one should either direct a contest or lift in a contest but probably not try to do both. When Mike Wittmer and I were asked to take over the Missouri State Olympic Weightlifting Championships, it was the first opportunity I had to design a meet tee shirt, not yet a commonly seen item. It turned out to be a popular and attractive model that displayed the state outline and all of the appropriate verbiage to demonstrate to onlookers that “I lifted weights.” Because St. Louis was in fact a rabid lifting area, there were meets within driving distance almost weekly between powerlifting and Olympic lifting and our group competed in them, assisted as spotters and loaders, or observed on a regular basis. When Kathy and I owned the Iron Island Gym, we held five meets annually; the New York State Powerlifting Championships, a deadlift only championship, two bench press contests, and what we termed a limited, “invitational meet” that insured that all of our gym lifters had the opportunity to go head-to-head against others of similar ability from out of state. For four or five of our seven years of gym ownership, we volunteered to host the New York Empire State Olympic Weightlifting Qualifying Contest for the area lifters. Stan Bailey, a very highly ranked lifter from the 1960’s, was the coach of the Empire State Team and was meet director but we would supply spotters, loaders, the warm-up and competition facility, and I would spend the day announcing, loading, and doing whatever it took to provide them with a successful venue.

Dr-Richard-Seibert-

Dr. Richard Seibert was on one of our U.S. Teenage World teams when he was my patient. Rich went on to Chiropractic college and to successful careers as a Chiropractor with a thriving Long Island practice and as an Olympic weightlifter who still competes into his 50’s. Rich brought a young, talented lifter to my office for treatment who became one of our country’s finest Olympic weightlifters. He was inspired to return to his home in Illinois and later pursue a career as a Chiropractor after attending Logan College Of Chiropractic in St. Louis. That lifter was the great Curt White.

Olympic-weightlifter-Curt-White

Former Olympic weightlifter Curt White, one of the best we had for many years, now a successful Chiropractor in Mooresville, NC

One of the truisms I learned, was that for a lifting fan, there are few things as exciting or wonderful as watching “good” Olympic weightlifting and few things as horrible from a spectator’s perspective, as watching poor lifting. There is no doubt that Olympic lifters and fans will immediately state that “nothing is worse than watching powerlifting” with emphasis on the word “boring!” It obviously depends upon one’s perspective, lifting background, and interest but there is no doubt in my mind that the personalities attracted to each segment of the iron game sports are very different. These differences are often on display during the actual lifting competitions. As usual, allow me to make reference to “the old days” of the 1950’s and ‘60’s, or at least what I experienced. Once powerlifting was established as an official sport, many of the powerlifters were Olympic lifters. Many of the Olympic lifters were powerlifters. “Everyone” who trained did so to become bigger and stronger, not “cut,” “ripped,” or “to have abs” so that they were deemed to be “hotter” than some other guy. I believe any conversation that made reference to a male that was “hot” would have made most of the gym attendees of that era cringe. Our commercial gym ownership that spanned from our first construction day of November 1, 1991, through our official opening on February 3, 1992 to our sale date of October 26, 1998 forced us to understand that the driving force behind most gym memberships was in fact, a desire for both men and women to be seen as “hot” by the same and opposite sexes. “Getting bigger and stronger” lagged far behind “gotta have abs and pecs” and “I only want to train chest and arms” on the popularity scale. The previous generations of lifters were in it for a very different goal: pack on as much muscle as possible with most men cognizant that they wanted to be lean enough to at least demonstrate through their appearance that they had in fact trained to become stronger and weren’t just circus fat men.

Olympic-weightlifter-Charles-Vinci

Bantamweight Olympic weightlifter Charles Vinci, the last American to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games in the sport, obviously knew his way around a barbell curl and chin up bar. Vinci was cited by York Barbell Company owner and Olympic weightlifting team “owner” Bob Hoffman as an example of a lifter who had “too much” muscle. AT 4’11-3/4” Vinci was as packed with functional muscle as he could be but Hoffman would chide him about doing curls and bench presses, noting that “for every ounce of muscle in his biceps, he could have trained to put it into his hips or back to lift more weight.” As multiple time national and world champion, its debatable if Vinci could have lifted much better than he did.

Olympic-weightlifter-Charles-Vinci_02

The Cleveland, Ohio ironworker was one of the “old school” examples of men who did a variety of lifting and training movements yet were proficient at the Iron Game specialty they placed their focus on. As a deeply religious man Vinci often attributed his success to “the will of God,” but all of his training partners noted his willingness to train day or night, and a contagious level of enthusiasm and dedication. Vinci was a true champion!

Even hard core bodybuilders were focused upon packing on as much muscle and as being as muscular as possible, in every area of their body, not targeting “pecs, biceps, and abs only” which seems to be the obsession of every twenty-something year old male. What was also obvious was the goal of most bodybuilders, even competitive bodybuilders, to be strong or considered as “strong” relative to the average man on the street. Vince Gironda was perhaps the only known physique star and gym owner who flat out stated that bodybuilding was just that, building and displaying the muscular structures of the body and the accompanying strength of those muscular structures were not only very secondary, it need not be a consideration of the serious or competitive bodybuilder. He was ridiculed or seen as a radical by his bodybuilding brethren because for anyone of that era, lifting weights implied being strong, no matter what one’s ultimate goal was.

The technical aspects of Olympic weightlifting made it beyond the consideration of many who lifted weights. Some “just knew” they would not be able to master what appeared to be intricacies involved in the clean and press, snatch, and clean and jerk. To the uninitiated, it just looked difficult. After attempting the lifts, even with excellent instruction, most were convinced it was a task that would never allow them to fulfill their barbell oriented goals. For this reason alone, those attracted to the sport were different than those attracted to the sport of powerlifting. Since I began writing for the popular muscle related press in the late 1960’s, I have noted the technical proficiency needed to be an accomplished powerlifter and the very technical aspects of each individual lift. While my competitive days are long behind me, I am still at heart “a powerlifter” before I am anything else related to a barbell but I would never try to convince myself that the technical aspects of powerlifting and the technique needed to fulfill one’s potential on the platform, compare to that necessary for successful Olympic lifting.

More next month. Be sure to come back December 1st 2013 to read installment #66 of Dr. Ken’s “History of Powerlifting Series”